A Brooklyn Heights Key Food that has been repeatedly accused of changing the “sell-by” date on meat is off the hook this week after the state revealed that the relabeling practice is completely legal.
The Atlantic Avenue market was under state scrutiny last month after customer Marie Viljoen took pictures of a spoiled D’Artagnan chicken, which appeared to have a new “sell by” date placed over the 11-day-old original. The store has been smacked with some serious food safety violations over the past few months, but the state now says that there’s no problem.
“ ‘Sell by’ dates are nothing but a tool for store managers,” said Jessica Ziehm, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture and Markets that inspected the Key Food after Viljoen’s claims. “It’s not illegal to re-date or re-package, though they’re still required to sell safe, wholesome products. We went there and found no problems.”
Ziehm said the department followed up on Viljoen’s May 13 claim mainly because her chicken had spoiled — but inspectors couldn’t find any “critical deficiencies” in the store’s practices at that time.
That said, reports obtained by The Brooklyn Paper revealed that this particular Key Food walked a thin line last month after inspectors found back-to-back food deficiencies of the worst grade. In April, inspectors found a significant “buildup of old encrusted meat residues on food contact surfaces,” and in May, they found flies in the basement kitchen — problems that were resolved in front of inspectors.
If the Key Food had failed a third inspection on May 13, its license could have been revoked, Ziehm said.
Viljoen isn’t the only one complaining. On Monday, after the Cobble Hill Blog reprinted our original story, a commenter provided a shocking picture of a package of meat labeled “octopus” that clearly contained some octopus, but mostly imitation crab.
Still, the store is exonerated in the eyes of the state, at least until the next inspection. A manager who asked not to be named denied having ever tampering with the labels — though he extended an apology to Viljoen.
“We want our customers coming back,” the employee said. “We want to do a service to this community.”
He even offered Viljoen a free chicken, but she won’t accept, saying that the store’s previous complaints and inspection failures are telling.
“I read labels because I want to know what I’m eating — I think this is a systematic problem,” Viljoen said. “[The workers] seem to do whatever they can get away with. I won’t shop there anymore, based on principle.”
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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